Where there is a crisis, there are often people ready to take advantage of others. The Federal Trade Commission issued a few tips on how to help you keep the scammers at bay:
• Don’t click on links from sources you don’t know. They could download viruses onto your computer or device.
• Watch for emails claiming to be from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or experts saying they have information about the virus. For the most up-to-date information about the Coronavirus, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO).
• Ignore online offers for vaccinations. There currently are no vaccines, pills, potions, lotions, lozenges or other prescription or over-the-counter products available to treat or cure Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) — online or in stores.
• Do your homework when it comes to donations, whether through charities or crowdfunding sites. Don’t let anyone rush you into making a donation. If someone wants donations in cash, by gift card, or by wiring money, don’t do it.
The FTC and FDA have jointly issued warning letters to seven sellers of unapproved and misbranded products, claiming they can treat or prevent the Coronavirus. The companies’ products include teas, essential oils, and colloidal silver.
The FTC says the companies have no evidence to back up their claims — as required by law. The FDA says there are no approved vaccines, drugs or investigational products currently available to treat or prevent the virus. Read more about the warning letters.
Online Security Tips for Working From Home
Teleworking during the Coronavirus outbreak? While working from home can help slow the spread of the virus, it brings new challenges: juggling work while kids are home from school; learning new software and conferencing programs; and managing paper files at home. As you’re getting your work-at-home systems set up, here are some tips for protecting your devices and personal information.
• Start with cybersecurity basics. Keep your security software up to date. Use passwords on all your devices and apps. Make sure the passwords are long, strong and unique: at least 12 characters that are a mix of numbers, symbols and capital and lowercase letters.
• Secure your home network. Start with your router. Turn on encryption (WPA2 or WPA3). Encryption scrambles information sent over your network so outsiders can’t read it. WPA2 and WPA3 are the most up-to-date encryption standards to protect information sent over a wireless network. No WPA3 or WPA2 options on your router? Try updating your router software, then check again to see if WPA2 or WPA3 are available. If not, consider replacing your router. For more guidance, read Securing Your Wireless Network and Secure Remote Access.
• Keep an eye on your laptop. If you’re using a laptop, make sure it is password-protected, locked and secure. Never leave it unattended – like in a vehicle or at a public charging station.
• Securely store sensitive files. When there’s a legitimate business need to transfer confidential information from office to home, keep it out of sight and under lock and key. If you don’t have a file cabinet at home, use a locked room. For more tips, read about physical security.
• Dispose of sensitive data securely. Don’t just throw it in the trash or recycling bin. Shred it. Paperwork you no longer need can be treasure to identity thieves if it includes personal information about customers or employees.
• Follow your employer’s security practices. Your home is now an extension of your office. So, follow the protocols that your employer has implemented.
PG&E Warning
Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) is alerting customers to be aware of potential scam phone calls or emails threatening to shut off power if a payment is not made.
Since the COVID-19 outbreak began, PG&E’s Corporate Security department has received several reports regarding scammers requesting payment on past due utility bills immediately with a debit card. PG&E has also seen an increase in “spoofing,” which is when the incoming call appears to come from a PG&E telephone number.
“It’s alarming that people are trying to capitalize on the pandemic and people’s fears. Unfortunately, that’s the reality with scammers,” said James Murphy, senior director, corporate security at PG&E, in a news release. “We’ve seen a steady stream of scam calls recently and are reminding customers that PG&E will never ask for personal information or a credit card number over the phone,”
Last week, PG&E announced that in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, it has voluntarily implemented a moratorium on service disconnections for non-payment, effective immediately. This suspension applies to both residential and commercial customers and will remain in effect until further notice. Customers should assume that any threat related to a disruption in service for non-payment is a scam.
Earlier in the year, PG&E started seeing a new scam trend with the request becoming more detailed. Scammers include specific names of customers, and in some cases, guessing general dollar amounts owed. They are also disguising their true phone numbers with a caller ID that says “PG&E” or “Pacific Gas & Electric.”
Other scam phone call tactics include:
• Notifying residents that they are eligible for a federal tax refund related to their utility bill
• Trying to sell services related to solar evaluation
• Claiming to represent a PG&E initiative to sell a product in order to gain access to their home
PG&E offers the following tips to help protect customers from all types of potential scams:
• PG&E’s Credit Department will not ask for personal information or a credit card number over the phone. Anyone who has received such a phone call and provided credit card or checking account information should report it immediately to the credit card company or bank and law enforcement.
• Other types of scams that can impact customers include online “phishing” where scammers seek personal or financial information, as well as in-person scams where scammers pose as an electric or gas employee.
• Customers with concerns about the legitimacy of a call about a past due bill, service request or request for personal information are encouraged to call PG&E at 1-800-743-5000.
• Customers should always ask to see identification before allowing anyone claiming to be a PG&E representative inside their home. PG&E employees always carry their identification and are willing to show it to you.
• If you feel threatened in any way, notify local law enforcement immediately.
Anyone who has received such a call can report it immediately by calling PG&E at 1-800-743-5000 or visit www.pge.com/scams.